Saturday, April 15, 2000

Draft could be answer to Pickens




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Carl Pickens is on the trading block, and the price is right. The going rate, says draftnik Jerry Jones, is a fourth-round draft choice. Today, however, Pickens is on special.

        He is yours for a player to be named later and a used Volvo to be driven now. He can be had for a tackling dummy and a kicking tee.

        You want him? You've got him.

        You want him? You deserve him.

        Carl Pickens is the most prolific receiver the Bengals have ever employed and a peerless pain in the posterior. Solomon Wilcots, a former teammate, once described him as a “cancer,” but he was being kind. Pickens is more like a plague — insidious and infectious.

        Bengals coach Bruce Coslet defended Pickens last season at the cost of his credibility, only to be stabbed in the back by the irritable ingrate.

        Now, Coslet says Pickens can come back to the team only on the condition he reaches an “understanding” with his bosses.

        Translated: Over my dead body.

Today could be the day
        Two years ago, Pickens showed up his quarterback and coaches in one game with a series of inflammatory gestures. Less than two months later, he effectively quit in the middle of another game — this as the prelude to a protracted holdout. Pickens ultimately signed a lucrative long-term contract — five years, $23.2 million — only to perform as if his goal were indifference.

        He is the sort of disruptive influence who should have been cut loose a long time ago, but Paul Brown's personnel philosophy still pervades his franchise. Brown believed you should never get rid of a player until you have acquired his replacement.

        That's why today's NFL draft holds so much promise for the home team. Barring a late-breaking trade or a surprise selection, the Bengals are expected to take Florida State receiver Peter Warrick with the fourth pick in the first round.

        Warrick is a wonderful prospect whose every possession poses a scoring threat. But what makes him even more appealing is that getting him gives the Bengals an excuse to dump Pickens.

Time to make a move
        It may not happen quickly. Though the New York Jets are knee-deep in draft choices and wafer-thin at wideout, Pickens' age (30), his attitude and his contract makes him fairly tough to trade.

        Pickens was once a great player, blessed with superb body control, a high jumper's leaping ability and flypaper fingers. What he is now — or at least what he was last season — is a troublemaker no longer worth the trouble.

        Cutting him now would have severe salary cap consequences. Yet if the Bengals cannot find a willing taker this weekend — most likely the Jets, perhaps as part of a package with the disaffected Corey Dillon — they would be well-advised to release Pickens on or about June 1. On that date, Pickens' $3.5 million signing bonus can be amortized over an additional year of salary cap.

        If Mike Brown hasn't rid himself of Pickens by that point, it can be only because he's trying to trade him to a team in Siberia. If Pickens plays one more down for the Bengals, it will be because Brown is too stubborn to cut his losses and too oblivious to appreciate Pickens' divisive impact on his business.

        “If I ran a company, I wouldn't keep a guy like that around, no matter how talented he was,” one Bengals veteran said Friday. Brown's concern is that once you start obliging malcontents who want out, you set a precedent other players will attempt to exploit. His problem is that if he doesn't get rid of Pickens soon, he risks making everyone else miserable.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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